Over two thousand years ago a man walked this earth in slippers and a frock. He tried to understand humanity: to reach out, to touch us, not in a disturbing kind of way, but in some way philosophical, morally, perhaps even spiritually. Who knows?
He was born neither into poverty nor great wealth. His father was a tradesman, a practical man, a methodical man. A man perhaps eclipsed by the shadow cast by his heir, and yet, happy to be so.
Historically this man never wrote a single word for posterity, we assume he could write but had a problem dipping his quill. Perhaps he thought himself unworthy, that no one really cared for his thoughts or that posterity’ would not listen. Or maybe he never trusted the written word; found it too open to interpretation, too easy for the student to manipulate his words to fulfil his/her own agenda. Others, be they follower, admirer or disciple have passed on his musings, paraphrased his ramblings and attempted to understand his life and purpose.
When sentenced to death, a little unfairly, he refused to show remorse. He chose death over life, honour over defeat and eternal life over traipsing the earth any longer in those damned slippers.
During his time on earth he was regarded by many of his contemporaries as a raconteur, a non-conformist, a wino but above all a teacher. A teacher that promoted humility and believed that poverty allowed one to see the world with tangential clarity. A revolutionary to some, a seditious trouble maker to others; either way his memory has cast the kind of luminosity that has influenced, even moulded western civilisation ever since.
Then four hundred years after he was put to death along comes Jesus Christ.
Many people can find obvious commonalities between Socrates and Jesus. It’s true that at first glance it appears that they share many characteristics. Neither men were born into wealth or authority; they had to forge their own way in the world. Slaves to conviction and sincerity (as so few of us are) they, in their own way, changed the world forever. Neither name will be forgotten.
Over two thousand years after they were put to death one has fathered a whole new religion; his name used in vain as much as in praise. The other … well the other has influenced the world in more subtle ways; after all he brought philosophy down from the skies.
Even so the differences outweigh the similarities and the differences are found not in their lifestyles but in their thoughts and beliefs.
To illustrate one such difference, we need to go way back in time, before Socrates, indeed even before slippers were invented. To a time before man ambled, with arrogant aplomb, onto the scene Gods ruled the world.
Socrates was no atheist; in fact his core beliefs were formed from his understanding of how he and all other people came into being.
According to Greek mythology Old Cronus, King of the Titans, got it together with Rhea, daughter of Gaia, they had six children, Zeus was one of them. Zeus, after much daring do, overthrew his father and took control of the heavens. He also married his own sister Hera; well what was he supposed to do? Pickings were slim in those days – ‘Flowers in the attic’ had only just hit the bookshelves and Thai brides.com was merely a glint in the Cyclops’s eye.
Hera was a jealous woman, prone to hissy fits and tantrums if her husband so much as looked at another woman, which he did, he had a roving eye, the old dog. When she found out that not only had her husband produced a son with Persephone but that Zeus had also given the boy ‘Dionysus’ the throne, she could no longer control her rage. She took the child to the Titans who ripped him limb from limb, Athena managed to salvage the heart and bring it back to Zeus. Zeus gets very pissed off at this point and fires a thunderbolt – his weapon of choice – across the street and destroys the Titans’ retirement home.
The soot that fell to Earth formed man (and woman): the Titans make up the body and Dionysus is the soul. So you see all men have a little bit of God in them.
Socrates believed that because of this tenuous link with the Gods it was possible to climb out of the squalor of mortal existence and forge a path towards virtue; that the Universe was of one substance, a continuum from the fabric of mortality to the ecstasy of the sublime. To complete the journey each man must use reason, to ‘know one’s self’. Reason brought you to God and a better understanding of Love or Eros.
Conversely, Jesus believed that man was cast out of the kingdom of Heaven for eating an apple to gain wisdom, they had been told not to, but went ahead and did it anyway! The only way back is through faith and faith alone. We are all fallible, fallen creatures who cannot, with the best will in the world, understand God. God will find us, we don’t find God.
This faith vs. reason contention has been the building block of western civilisation for millennia. Despite their many similarities these two historic figures are polar opposites.
Sin is inherent according to Jesus, we are born sinners and only God can save us. As for Socrates sin is a product of ignorance and not knowing ‘one’s self’, to know ‘one’s self’ is to act virtuously.
One of the greatest voids between the two men is the subject of Love or Eros. Jesus offered God’s agape, the Lords promise to love us all. Pleasures of the flesh are a sin, a curse on mankind; the only love worth seeking is God’s love. The Greeks on the other hand worshiped beauty, to the point where a person’s inner beauty was reflected upon the face; which could not have boded well for Socrates as he was, apparently, an ugly fucker! The pleasure found in the act of sex was a thing of beauty, understanding beauty brings you closer to God. Hence Socrates got laid and Jesus – apparently – did not…or did he?
Which brings us to the thorny issue of guilt, all Christians are born guilty, guilt is their lot in life; they can’t move for guilt. No matter how hard the Christian tries, whichever way he turns, up pops guilt. One can’t help thinking that Christians love the guilt; they get off on the guilt and then feel guilty about the guilt. That’s fucked up. In Socrates’ culture all men strove to be virtuous, if a man failed to be so he faced public humiliation. To be brought before your peers and shamed proved to be a great deterrent; to know you are riddled with guilt before you even start has proven otherwise. Behave or be shamed as opposed to no point even trying cos you’re buggered anyway.
Jesus preformed miracles, so they say, Socrates did not. Jesus had superpowers, healed the lame, gave sight to the blind and made a mean Bouillabaisse from only a handful of sardines. There are no such reports of Socrates’ wizardry – culinary or otherwise.
Jesus, as far as we know, showed little interest in the politics of his time, for him history went like this: beginning, (The Creation) middle (Him) and an end(Judgement Day).Obviously how men ruled themselves in the meantime was of little concern to Mr Christ.
Socrates reasoned that an end could not be known and living a virtuous life would bring enlightenment. He did get involved in politics as was every free male citizen’s duty in the world’s first democracy. Those lucky enough to be exempt from public duty were Women and slaves; jammy buggers. Albeit Socrates rubbed a lot of people up the wrong way, was contentious and out spoken.
Socrates’ technique was to try and make others do their own thinking by way of questioning. He was well-known for confusing or stunning people into the unpleasant experience of realising their own ignorance. This revelation was often followed by curiosity and a desire to seek further understanding.
Jesus, by contrast, had an answer for everything. He had all the answers; he knew what was best for you so you need look no further. Jesus was hawking afterlife insurance; God shares, a guaranteed place in Heaven. However, eternal rapture requires a lifetime of deprivation and devotion, live by God’s Word, accept his agape and most importantly do not attempt to think for yourself.
Faith or Reason? Surrender to dogma or examine the world with impartial candour, search for your own truths and keep an open mind?
‘All I know is that I know nothing’, makes Socrates the wisest man in Athens because he is the only person aware of his own ignorance.
But, Socrates had faith: faith that every human being is born with innate wisdom. He saw his role as that of a midwife – through enquiry and dialogue he brought forth the truth and wisdom present within every soul.
We all need faith, not in God but ourselves
What if Socrates could have met Jesus? What would the conversation be like?
Socrates: Forgive me Jesus but I know nothing of your Gods, please do tell?
Jesus: There is only one God.
Socrates: Well what of these angels of which you speak then?
Jesus: They are just angels.
Socrates: Well what do they look like?
Jesus: They look like us but have wings and are immortal creatures.
Socrates: That’s what we call Gods here.
Jesus: There is only one God.
Socrates: What of the Devil?
Jesus: He was banished from Heaven for trying to overthrow the throne of God.
Socrates: And if he had succeeded, he would be God?
Jesus: No there is only one God.
Socrates: How do I find this God?
Jesus: Just have Faith and he will come.
Socrates: So he doesn’t exist unless I choose to believe in him?
Jesus: He exists.
Socrates: How do you know?
Jesus: I have Faith.
Socrates: What about this virgin birth?
Jesus: I was conceived in my mother’s womb by the Holy Spirit.
Socrates: Who is this Holy Spirit?
Jesus: He is God.
Socrates: Who are you?
Jesus: I’m God too.
Socrates: You impregnated your own mother?
Jesus: No that was the Holy Spirit.
Socrates: Are you going to turn this water into wine for me or not?
Jesus: Oh for God sake!